Farmer March: From Economics To Politics
The greatest irony of this country remains that the economic returns in agriculture in India are meagre despite the fact that according to the Indian Economic Survey 2017-2018 an estimated 49 per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture for employment. This is especially grave when considering the fact that the average recovery rate of investments by an Indian farmer is only 30 per cent which amounts to little to no development of the agricultural sector. Urbanisation is blamed for this when the real reason for meagre economic returns is mainly because of other social and economic factors. The high cost of infrastructure blended with the maintenance costs and capital investments only add to the distress of the farmers.
The Farmer Strike has gained extensive political momentum wherein demands are put forward that are supposed to help relieve the distress of farmers and assure a better living standard for them. The demands that are usually put forward are those of loan waivers, fair price and MSPs, crop pension and so on however it is important to note that these demands when accepted are done under political pressure and not with considerations of economic growth of farmers.
The romanticization of agriculture leads to the portrayal of farmers in the light of humanitarians who provide food while staying in bad conditions. The marches of farmers that happen in cities thus appeal to a deeper sense of sympathy within the people living in urban areas. It is important to remember however that agriculture is a profession with involved losses, gains and risks and not a charitable mission of sorts when considering decisions and initiatives to benefit farmers as in India these initiatives are required to be based on a vision of promoting self-sufficiency. In other words, the population dependent on agriculture for employment are working not to feed others but primarily to feed themselves.
The growth of the industrial and service sectors in recent years has showcased a major shift in the high rates of employability in agriculture. A major portion of the employable population of the nation still depends on agriculture but the descent of dependence on agriculture for employment has been majorly observable throughout South Asia with a 25.4 per cent reduction of the share of agriculture towards total employment in 22 years (1991-2013).
The demands being made for the government providing 50 percent over the cost of production within the C2 cost method by the National Commission of Farmers headed by MS Swaminathan which includes everything from aid-out expenses both in cash and kind, interest on the value of owned capital assets, rent for leased-in land and rental value of owned land and loan waivers only showcase the lack of evidence-based solutions with a view of promoting “self-sufficiency”. The Government could not fulfil the promise made in the General Election Manifesto-2014 of the Bharatiya Janata Party to provide 50 per cent over the cost of production to farmers as doing so would “distort the market” which is understandable. Loan Waivers while being provided are a temporary break to the distress of farmers that helps avoid action on the roots of distress and low economic returns.
Even when short-termed solutions are provided they are not based on ground economic reality which is evident when we consider the fact that overproduced crops receive MSPs and economic subsidies but the same is not provided for oils and pulses which a produce at India majorly imports and is difficult to produce. Short termed measures should be complemented by long-term solutions that can solve the crisis of innumerous agrarians across the nation.
The need for alternative solutions and initiatives like the “Uzhavar Sandhai” initiative by the Government of Tamil Nadu that are based on the vision of self-sustainability are required. An analysis of the “Uzhavar Sandhai” initiative that can be found here assesses that this initiative caused an increase in the purchasing power of 74 per cent of the people benefitting from it which allowed 43 per cent of the participants to construct their own houses. Such initiatives that increase the purchasing power of the farmers will ultimately lead to private investment and ultimately an increase in the standard of living. Such initiatives when complemented by initiatives like e-Nam can cause tangible and long-term changes.
The biggest solution, however, to improve the life of farmers is based on the result of a research paper of the Food and Agriculture Organisation which can be found here. The research concludes that there is a “weak relationship between physical capital growth and growth as compared to technology and human capital”. Investing in getting farmer’s technology that can help optimise production processes and awareness/education that will help them effectively decide the crops that they wish to produce considering the market. Special emphasis needs to be based on irrigation facilities as in India more than two-thirds of the crops lack proper irrigational facilities and lack of proper irrigation can cause effects like soil erosion and salinity although India is the second most irrigated country in the world.
Major politicisation of the farmer strikes contributes to the adoption of temporary and short-sighted measures. Subsidisation if and when required should be provided with the attitude of bettering conditions of professionals rather than helping people requiring humanitarian assistance in order to assure those solutions that can cause tangible and long-term change is implemented. Relief measures and solutions should be objective and based on economic evidence and promotion of self-sustenance to ensure the bettering of conditions.